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11/30/2011: The Beginning of the Big Race, 25 Hours of Thunderhill

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The day is here. As I type, Team 949Racing is on its way to Thunderhill. Lots of manpower, prep and coffee went into this.

I am going to try and update as often as possible for this week. For frequent to-the-minute updates, please follow the team on the Facebook page (Team 949Racing) and Twitter (@Team949Racing).

10/8/2011: Buttonwillow 3-Hour Night Enduro

This was a very anticipated event for me as it was my first sanctioned race at night and at Buttonwillow, a track I know extremely well.  I was hoping for my first official NASA win for Team 2nd Chance Roadster. Also, most of teammates and crew for 25 Hours of Thunderhill effort were there to practice and test, including the team’s halo car, Crusher, and Enzo with a fresh coat of paint.

Team 949Racing’s halo car, Crusher, finally ready for its first endurance race.

Old faithful for Team 949Racing, Enzo, with a fresh coat of paint.

Left to right: legendary tuning guru and crew chief Oscar Jackson Sr., his son and fellow driver Oscar Jackson Jr., team owner/driver Emilio Cervantes and fellow driver Richard Gray.

JIm Tway and William Chen discussing strategy for Team 2nd Chance Roadster.

I really did not want to miss this event, and I had to get my cage fixed by order of NASA officials from the Thunderhill event. So I asked Moti from Blackbird Fabworx to help, especially under short notice, which had to do with a flaw I discover at the last minute after I thought the the came was fixed.  Moti worked with me even despite getting delayed by a day due to getting a flat tire on my trailer.  He even gave me a spare tire to run on while I get the flat tire replaced!  Seriously, the nicest guy in the world!

With the cage fixed, Monty’s light setup revised and having experienced night driving in Chumpcar event back in July and missing my first official NASA win back in August, I really wanted it badly and thought I had prep ready to win this race.  However, I don’t think it was meant to be.

Here’s my codriver for the day, Jim Tway, being prepped for the lead stint of the 3-Hour night endurance race for Team 2nd Chance Roadster.  I was on deck for the second half of the race.

Team 2nd Chance Roadster ended up finishing in 3rd place, a miracle considering that at one point of the race, we were dead last in class (8th place) at one point in the race.  Here is the story. Jim (an experienced and fast SCCA T1 Corvette wheel-to-wheel racer and S2000 Challenge driver) did a great job keeping Monty and Team 2nd Chance Roadster in 3rd place by the time he came in for a driver change.  However, it was very unexpected since the radio in Monty stopped working and we did not have a communications backup plan.  The cause of the radio outage was due to my shody electrical wiring work I thought I was proud of in my last blog entry.  And that was only the beginning of the disaster…

When Jim climbed out for the driver change, we had another real problem: one part of the seat harness had come loose from its mounting point. The cause was a broken exhaust hanger, which I thought was fixed before the event.  You’d probably thinking, “How was that the cause?” Well, the hanger broke during the race and caused the exhaust to move and bang against the transmission tunnel, which rattled the bolt out of its threaded hole holding part of the harness.  I can’t help but feel very bad for Jim for the screw up because I feel that I am responsible for killing a perfect race for the team since I was the one who prepared Monty.  On top of that, we got a pit speeding penalty during the stop.  Not Jim’s fault, but again purely mine since the speedometer cable was still disconnected from fixing an electrical problem earlier in the day and simply was forgotten about. It seems that the errors were not from the race itself, but beforehand.  Chalk it up for a hard lesson learned. Several minutes later, the harness was fixed and it was time to take the pit speeding penalty.  During this time, I couldn’t help but kick myself in the head for letting potential victory slip away like that. With radio silence and being in last place at this point in the race, I decided to do what I do best: drive flat out.

At one point, I felt like time was slowing down and that I didn’t have to see where I was going anymore.  Even the fact that the dust that loomed over the entire track was like a dense miasma, I was zooming passed car after car and it didn’t even phase me one bit.  The only thing that mattered to me was to salvage the race the best I could.  Without any radio communications, I left alone to my own devices to gauge my own pace that would be sustainable for the next 1.5 hours.  It turned out that I was going much faster than I should have gone and making risky passes, according to William after the race.  That’s because I was catching some slower E2 and E1 class racecars and actually racing them in the technical portions of the track.  While this was going on, I passed half of the E3 field.  It was to only consolation to what I thought was a lost race, or so I thought.

A 3rd place finish from last (8th place) in about 1.5 hours was something that I should be proud of, but at the same time, I can’t help but think what would have been without the mechanical gremlins.  But as Emilio and Oscar Sr. have said to me, “That’s racing.”  A comforting thought too was that Oscar Sr. was impressed with my pace in the dark.  That meant a lot to me.  Also, a pep talk with Emilio after that weekend made me take some very solid and wise advice as well.

Both wise men’s words are things I take truly take to heart as I continually develop as a member of Team 949Racing for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.  Lesson learned is that complete racer is both a driver and a wrencher and that I need to function as both to be truly successful.